YMCA comes to aid of health care professionals, first responder’s children

By Kim Schmidt, Hub Staff Writer
Apr 9, 2020 Updated Apr 9, 2020

KEARNEY — The Kearney Family YMCA may be closed to its regular families and members, but it still is providing child care services for local health care providers and first responders.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the YMCA closed March 17. Immediately, Executive Director Denny Placzek said officials from both CHI Health Good Samaritan and Kearney Regional Medical Center contacted him about helping provide child care services for medical professionals and first responders.

First, the YMCA had to make a few changes to their facility to abide by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and hospital standards. Those included having eight to 10 children in a room and each room had to be separated from the others, separate eating and play areas and their own separate entrances.

When children arrive at the facility, their temperature is taken and they must wash their hands. “We try to make it as normal as possible from that point forward,” Placzek said.

“We’ve really stepped up our standards,” he said.

The YMCA is set up to care for up to 70 children ages 18 months to 11 years old, although they currently have about 20 children. During normal operation the Y is licensed by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to provide child care for 60 children, and 100 children for its after-school program.

The child care area and the hyper-gym each were split into four separate areas for children, including play and lunch areas.

“We just didn’t want these kids to be in a room all day and that’s all they could do, and the only place they could go,” Placzek said. “Being closed like we were and not having any children in the building was sad and difficult for our staff that were still here. But having just a few kids in the building and see the laughter and the smiles and the running around — seeing them enjoying themselves — makes you realize things are still pretty good for a lot of these kids, and that’s what we want.”

Children have activity and gym time, and work on homework, if needed.

If the pandemic worsens in Kearney, Placzek says the YMCA will continue to provide care to children of health care providers and first responders, with guidance from CHI, KRMC and the CDC.


Never walk road alone: Cancer survivors stick together in YMCA Livestrong class

Written By Mary Jane Skalka of Kearney Hub

Joyce Munnell never had used a fitness machine. She’d never even attempted to swim. But after she was treated for cancer 18 months ago, she took the plunge and signed up for the new trademarked program call Livestrong at the YMCA, a 12-week program for cancer survivors at the Kearney Family YMCA at 4500 Sixth Ave.

At age 80, Munnell was the oldest in the class. She completed it Dec. 12. Along with her course certificate, she has nine new friends and a new determination to stay fit. “If you’re going to do something, you need to do it as good as you can,” she said. “But you’re never expected to do more than you can do,” she said.

The free program meets for 90 minutes twice a week for 12 weeks. Its focus is fitness and wellness, with a focus on cardio and lifting, diet and nutrition and even shoes. “This is so important because cancer survivors can have numbness in their feet,” Brooke White, the instructor, said.

“Our emphasis is the whole person, mind, body and spirit. It’s not just physical. If we’ve done our job properly, by the end of the class, we have allowed them to get a piece of the person they used to be back, or find a new piece they didn’t know they had,” White said.

The class included a demonstration on yoga, a rowing demonstration from Aqua Zumba and even a spiritual component. “They’re not out running, but we take this a little farther and expand their horizons,” White added.

“The program is for anyone who has had cancer. Once you’re diagnosed with cancer, you are a survivor,” Cindy Mangels, the associate executive director of the YMCA, said. People who still are in treatment need the approval of their doctors; those finished with treatment do not.

The registration process is rather lengthy. Registrants must provide their medical history, treatments and much more. “We have to find out a lot of information so we can tailor the program to the individuals,” White said.

A select group

For the Kearney Family YMCA, landing the program was a coup. Kearney is one of just 25 YMCAs in the U.S. that offers it. Livestrong is a registered trademark of the LIVESTRONG Foundation, a non-profit organization. It is based at the YMCA of the USA in Austin, Texas.

Kearney’s Y applied in the fall of 2017. The foundation examined the Y’s finances, facilities and how it would sustain the program. The Kearney Y was approved, but without funding. It’s one of just five of the 25 YMCA’s that have the program that had to raise its own funds. The $11,000 raised in the Give Where You Live event Dec. 6 went to this program. Five Kearney organizations — CHI Health Cancer Center, The Buckle, Family Physical Therapy, TEAM Physical Therapy and Contemporary Obstetrics & Gynecolory — help support the program.

After approval, “We had to commit to put the steps in place,” Mangels said. Three YMCA staffers, including Mangels and Executive Director Denny Placzek, went to Chicago for training, not once but twice. They also had to complete an “evidence-based health initiative,” which meant collecting health data from participants and feeding it to a national database. The hope is that future funding will be available from national sources.

The program also is part of the Y’s new initiative to support and help people with chronic diseases and prevention. “We want to be more than a gym and swim,” Dillon Nelson, the Y’s community engagement manager, said.

Mangels understood. “Every person is impacted by cancer. Everyone knows someone who has or had cancer,” she said. For her, it was her father, who died of cancer, and her mother, who recently was diagnosed. “I knew we had to have this. It offers a hope to get your quality of life back after treatment. Cancer doesn’t have to be the end of your life. It can be a new beginning,” she said.

She added that the YMCA is a “trusted” organization with the reputation for making a difference. But she sensed the need for this program because she’d been in the CHI Health Good Samaritan Cancer Center. She had been in the Heartland Oncology Center in Grand Island. She had visited with staff.

“But once they’re done with treatment, Kearney didn’t have anything to offer. When I heard about Livestrong at the YMCA, I knew we could bridge that gap and take cancer survivors another step further,” she said.

After just one session, it already has. The next class, due to start in late January, already is full and has a waiting list.

The program will be offered three times a year. The next is scheduled to begin at the end of January. “The end result is we’ll take someone who has just finished his or her last round of chemotherapy, or hasn’t had chemo but is two or three years beyond cancer but they haven’t continued to work out. For all of them, the mental aspect is quite the same.

“The need is huge,” Mangels said.

Munnell can speak to the need. “I had never been exposed to any of the machines or the swimming pool. Everything we did was all new to me,” she said. She signed up simply because she’d turned 80 and could get a free YMCA membership at that age. She always had walked 30 minutes five days a week and just wanted a place to walk indoors. As she was signing up for membership, she asked about Livestrong. “I walked in at 1 p.m. to register and by 2:15, I was a Livestrong member,” she said.

The program has finished, but Mullen has not. She regularly visits the Y. She walks for 15 minutes, then works on machines for the upper and lower body. “I did wonderfully. I improved wonderfully,” she said. “I am stronger. I learned new things. I saw new people twice a week and got out of the house. I have nine new friends.” Now that the program is finished, they plan to meet at Perkins once a month to stay connected.

“Everyone has the opportunity to help someone and make a change in someone else’s life,” said Nelson, who often works at the front desk. “I got to see them all come in. This class has been a life changer at the Y. This was the most fun bunch we’ve had in a long time. They made us smile. I saw them go through a major change from the first class,” he said.

White said that Mullen was “quiet and apprehensive” at first, “and now Joyce is one of the people I can sit down and talk to. It was exciting to talk to them and hear their stories,” she added.

“This is exactly what the Y is here for. We are here for the community. We want to change people’s lives, but they change ours, too,” Dillon said.

The final session, when graduates received diplomas, they brought their families. “That was a tough night for me,” Mullen admitted. “I had an awakening. We’re all in the same boat. It’s a boat that not everyone has to be in, but you realize these people know where you’ve been. I’d been with them, just three months, and three months isn’t that long.”

White added: “It’s a mental aspect. It’s realizing you’re not alone.”

Mullen said she could tell the group how she felt and “they all understand. We were all there for each other.”

Added Nelson: “They were all there for each other.”

YMCA campaigns to be even more for Kearney

Written by Mary Jane Skalka OF Kearney Hub

KEARNEY — A gym and swim. An indoor neighborhood. The Kearney Family YMCA will be even more after its $7.8 million Healthier Tomorrows capital campaign funds an ambitious 20,000-square-foot addition.

The campaign, ongoing quietly for the past year and set to begin publicly in early 2019, will finance a spacious ground-floor Wellness Center with a wealth of fitness equipment and large windows. A new main entrance, a Learning Garden and a Cafe Corner gathering area will be created. On the second floor, the current fitness center will be replaced with classrooms and child care space for grades 4-6.

Plans were drawn by Donor by Design, a Minneapolis company that works with YMCAs across the country. The Y expects to break ground in 2019 and complete the expansion in 2020. The Y will remain open while the work is progressing.

“This project will help us tell our story,” Executive Director Denny Placzek said.

Dave Chally, co-chair with Karen Rhoads of the eight-member Campaign Cabinet, joked that he could “ramble on for a week” about the project. “This allows the Y to expand not just our facilities, but also our programming. Seeing the enthusiasm of people we’ve visited so far has really been encouraging,” he said.

Unstoppable growth

The Y can’t stop growing. The current building opened in 1994, “but we discovered early on that the building wasn’t large enough,” Placzek said. It was expanded just four years later.

Today, the Y’s membership is nearly 6,000, or nearly one in five people in this city of 33,000. Last year, 560 children took swimming lessons, and 384 volunteers contributed 4,500 hours of service. In addition, last year, 2,300 non-members attended classes, swam and worked out at the Y.

In 2016, as the Y gasped for more space, its board of directors, staff and between 15-20 community leaders began strategic planning. “With Kearney growing like it is, we asked, ‘What do we need to do to make sure the organization is viable for the next 20 years?’” Placzek asked. “People come to interact here. In this day and age, people can get so isolated with their phones.”

The group looked beyond current programs. Surveys showed parents want family craft nights and arts and theater-related programs. “We do a great job for child care up to third grade, but we need areas for grades 4-6,” Placzek said. “Our key area is really the development of kids and teaching them values through our programs.”

Baby boomers and beyond

But as the population ages, the Y realizes it must reach out to baby boomers and beyond. Placzek and the board see the Y as an integrated health wellness center.

“How do we assist growing medical needs in our communities?’” Placzek said. “How do we use preventive care to keep people healthy and lower health care costs? Once a person has a health incident, how do we keep them out of the hospital? Once they’ve finished therapy, where do they go?”

During community interviews and focus group sessions, medical professionals recommended that the Y focus on prevention and become a place for people who have finished rehabilitation but want to retain good health. Placzek dubs such people “health-seekers.”

Once the addition is completed, the Y’s staff will include wellness coaches “who sit down with people, find out what their needs and goals are, what they want to accomplish and develop a plan,” Placzek said.

Added campaign co-chair Rhoads: “For a lot of people, coming to the Y can be intimidating if they haven’t been a part of it before. They don’t know where to go and don’t know what to do. We want to give people the confidence that they can get involved with different equipment. We want to take them by the hand and make them comfortable.”

A bit of history

Internationally, the YMCA was founded as a Bible study group in London on June 6, 1844. The first Y in the United States opened in Boston in 1851. By the 1920s, Kearney officials were interested, but it was another 60 years before the first YMCA opened in downtown space known as “The Storefront,” donated by Scott Morris.

It consisted of a large multipurpose room and a few offices. It offered youth camps and step classes and quickly outgrew the space. In 1994, after an extensive capital campaign, the YMCA opened a new building on a 10.3-acre site at 4500 Sixth Ave. The land was donated by Calvin Johnson of Hastings. Six acres became outdoor fields for flag football, soccer and T-ball.

In 1998, the Y added the family center, the super gym, the Ron and Carol Cope Child Development Center, a board room and restrooms. The front entrance was relocated. It kept growing. It still does.

The Y’s child care starts at age 18 months. This year, 400 kids between kindergarten and seventh grade played flag football. Adults come for swimming, yoga, Zumba, indoor cycling, basketball, volleyball, yoga and more. Health-related programs cover diabetes prevention, weight loss, senior citizen fitness and a new program for those with Parkinson’s disease. The annual Turkey Trot run happens on Thanksgiving morning.

Major gifts so far

In the early phase of the campaign, the Kearney Family YMCA has raised $2.6 million. Several anonymous major gifts have come in, along with a generous lead gift made in honor of The Buckle Inc. Gifts of $50,000 and above have come from First National Bank, Eaton Corp. and Clark Legacy Foundation.

“The campaign wouldn’t be this far along without the support of our Kearney Family YMCA Board of Directors, as well as the support of the Kearney community,” Rhoads said. “Each gift, no matter how big or small, matters.”

Rhoads, the chief financial officer at Buckle for 34 years before retiring, also was part of the 1998 campaign. “The YMCA is an entity I’ve always had a passion for. The local Y is a great facility, a great asset to the community. The project is greatly needed,” Rhoads said.

Chally points out that the Y has given $150,000 back to the community in programs and memberships so all who desire to participate can do so. In his 20 years of leadership at the Y, “I’ve seen how many kids are impacted and how many lives are touched by the Y. No one is ever turned away because they can’t afford it,” he said.

Placzek settles in

On a cold, windy day in December 2013, Placzek climbed to the roof of the Y building and huddled under blankets to inspire Y donations for the Give Where You Live event sponsored by the Kearney Area Community Foundation. He won’t go to those extremes to raise money this time, but he’s no less inspired.

Placzek, 59, was hired as business manager for the Y in 1994 while getting his master’s degree in counseling at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. The Y still was located downtown then and was nothing but a large multipurpose room and a few offices. His office had an 8-foot-long table with plastic storage bins underneath. Still, it offered everything from youth camps to step classes. “I knew nothing about the YMCA, but I learned a lot and worked hard,” he said.

A few months after he began, Placzek moved into the new building and never left. He was named director of business operations in 1996 and promoted to CEO/executive director in 2007. In 2010, he created the Kearney Family YMCA Foundation.

“Denny is constantly looking for what the community needs, how we can work together with other partners,” Chally said. “The Y can help them provide what they may not be able to provide alone.”

That, Placzek said, is the Y’s mission. “Building relationships is what the Y is all about. If we see a need, we take a look and move forward. The best thing for me has been the opportunity to work with so many wonderful people and to know we make a difference.”


Improve your life with movement: YMCA’s Delay the Disease program has participants raving

Written by Mary Jane Skalka OF Kearney Hub

KEARNEY — Neil Jochen has sold advertising for small businesses. He has served as the executive director at YMCAs in Ohio and Michigan. But for the past 15 years, he’s had to funnel his energy into dealing with Parkinson’s disease.

In recent weeks, the 80-year-old Jochen has more energy, thanks to Delay the Disease, a new fitness program at the Kearney Family YMCA aimed at delaying and easing physical disabilities caused by Parkinson’s disease. Those disabilities include tremors, stiffness, slowness, behavioral disorders, sleep problems and functional decline. Since the pilot program began three weeks ago, “I’ve seen improvement,” his wife Beth said.

 “We want to help change lives,” Dillon Nelson, the Y’s community engagement manager, said. “We want anyone to come who has any kind of movement challenges.”

 Delay the Disease began as a pilot program in July. Nelson expected five people to show up for that trial run, but 18 came and gave it enthusiastic approval. It officially kicks off Aug. 21. Classes will be from 11 a.m. to noon Tuesday and Thursday. The cost is $5 per class.

 Tuesday morning, Y instructor Brooke White guided 12 people in that pilot program. Sitting up front on a folding chair, she had them warm up by looking from side to side and rolling their shoulders. They used their facial muscles. “I need everyone to have determined facial expressions. Be happy! Be sad! Be surprised!” White instructed.

 Next, they clutched a ball between their knees. Then, sitting across from a partner, they tossed a ball back and forth. They marched back and forth across the room. Participants can adjust the movements to their abilities, and assistance is available from White or her assistant, Theresa Harris.

 “I really enjoy this,” White said after the class. “On Tuesdays and Thursdays I wake up ready to go. I’m excited to come in and see the people come in.”

 Harris, who, like White wore a gray Delay the Disease T-shirt, said: “We thought we’d have five guys in the pilot program. We didn’t expect this kind of response.”

Jon McBride

The program was brought to the Y by Jon McBride, a former Kearney Family YMCA board member who served as the athletic director at the University of Nebraska at Kearney from 2002-2013. He’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2009, and finally “gave up (my job) when it got too tough to do it and maintain life at the same time.” But he knew that “activity and movement is the best medicine a person with Parkinson’s can have.”

McBride learned about Delay the Disease from the chairman of Nebraska Parkinson’s, the non-profit that raises funds and awareness about the disease. When told that DTD is offered in Omaha and Lincoln, but no farther west, McBride was determined to launch it here. “I wanted to see people in central and western Nebraska utilize this kind of program. This was badly needed in this part of the state,” he said.

McBride approached Denny Placzek, chief executive officer of the Y, about it. “I knew he was determined,” Placzek said. It also fit in with the Y’s mission, which in recent years had been focusing on chronic diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson’s. In December, Placzek met with Matt Lewis from New West Rehabilitation and Matt O’Neill from Alpha Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy at 920 E. 56th St.

In January, the Y formed an action group that included physical therapists, Parkinson’s disease patients and members of the Kearney Parkinson’s support group. Delay the Disease was off and running.

“Our mission will help individuals prevent, delay, or live better with chronic conditions,” Placzek said.

Certified trainers

With financial help from Nebraska Parkinson, White and Harris went to OhioHealth in Columbus for an intensive two-day Delay the Disease training program to certify them to become DTD instructors, who must be physical therapists or occupational therapists, or be certified in group exercise, in order to become certified to lead the program.

White has a group exercise certification and master’s degree in kinesiology. Through the training and the pilot program, “I’ve learned that a diagnosis doesn’t define the individual, and each person is unique in their journey with Parkinson’s disease,” she said.

Harris is a former physical therapist at CHI Health Good Samaritan and other places. Her husband, Ford, has early Parkinson’s disease and is in the pilot program. Harris is now a Y staff member.

‘Excited to be here’

Nelson sees firsthand how the program is changing lives. “I’ve seen people come out of their shells. I see them interacting with each other in this safe environment. Last week, we had a woman who was a bit hesitant at first, but I allowed her to sample it, and soon she was smiling and laughing.”

He added: “This program has changed not only participants’ lives, but the staff’s lives as well. The participants are coming to the Y, smiling and laughing and having a great time. They bring a different type of energy to our facility. They are showing us that although fitness and wellness can be a challenge, together, we’ve got this.”

McBride feels satisfaction in bringing DTD here. “I battle Parkinson’s every minute. All the time, I’m thinking about my next step, or going down a hallway. I’ve even told my doctor, ‘I’m tired of thinking.’ Smiling and being happy and even raising your voice is taken for granted by most people. Now, to be able to make changes and to be able to adjust is rewarding,” he said.

McBride has five heart-tugging reasons for being as limber as possible: his five grandchildren, all under the age of 6. “I want to make sure I can carry my grandkids,” he smiled. “This gives me the confidence and balance to do normal things that aren’t normal anymore.”


Health scare motivates Fields to make health a priority

Written by Mary Jane Skalka OF Kearney Hub

KEARNEY — For Katie Fields, a picture is worth not just 1,000 words, but 100 pounds and more. She has lost 80 pounds in the past year, and she’s not finished. Her husband Jim is taking pictures of her as she diets to keep her motivated.

“The pictures were my idea,” she said. “I wanted to keep track of my progress. They come in handy when I’m having a down day. It reminds me of how far I have come.”

Fields had sparred with diets all her life, but the diets kept winning. She’d plunge into one and lose a few pounds, but the weight crept back on. No matter what she did or what she ate, she was stuck at 450 pounds.

But when her doctor found some pre-cancer cells in her body a year ago, alarms went off. “I wanted things to change,” she said. This time, she was determined to win.

First, she and Jim, who live in Shelton, took an eight-week Power of Possibility class at the Kearney Family YMCA that focused on nutrition and exercise. Then they changed their eating habits. They eliminated fast food and soft drinks and added more fruits, vegetables and protein. “We made lots of changes together,” Fields said.

She started exercising, too. At first, it was a struggle, but Fields, the lead teacher for three- and four-year-olds in the Green Grasshopper classroom in the Ron and Carol Cope Child Development Center at the Y, stuck with it. “After one lap of walking around the gym, my back would hurt,” she said. She would sit down, but she did not quit. By the second week, she could do two laps. If her back hurt afterward, she would sit down again. She also began swimming.

The weight began falling off. Slowly, she began to see and feel a difference.

Fields bolstered her efforts by signing up for the Y’s 12-month Diabetes Prevention class. She had been diagnosed with prediabetes, a condition in which a person’s blood glucose is elevated, but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis. The class focuses on healthy eating, physical activity and more. The program aims to help participants lose from 5 to 7 percent of their body weight and exercise for 150 minutes each week.

“The wellness instructor, Terri Miller, had a quote: ‘If you’re not challenging yourself, you’re not changing,’” Fields said. “That stuck with me.”

In that class, Fields found encouragement, support and new friends. “It wasn’t just about losing weight. They also stressed getting enough sleep. I also learned that if you violate your diet, move on. Take it one meal at a time. Also, I learned that even when the scale isn’t moving, keep going,” she said.

Fields learned to focus on losing 10 pounds at a time. “Otherwise, I’d get lost in numbers,” she said. “Sometimes, the smallest steps make the biggest difference.”

Jim, meanwhile, decided to join Katie in shedding pounds. “First, I wanted to support Katie. We knew losing weight would help with her other medical challenges, but I, too, was majorly overweight and needed to do something about it,” he said.

Jim, the community relations officer for Mosaic in Axtell, already had developed Type II diabetes. His family history included diabetes and heart disease and “about everything else you don’t want. Katie’s medical challenges were the kick in the butt we both needed to get serious about this now.”

He has lost 50 pounds and brought his A1C down to normal. “I hate needles. I dreaded the idea of taking insulin every day. With the weight loss, I’ve gotten it down to a normal range,” he said. “My plan is to keep it there and never have to use those darn needles.”

He feels better, too, “I don’t get as winded now when I walk around Mosaic. I have more energy on the weekends. We hope to have children in the future, and I look forward to having the energy to play with them, not just sit and watch them play,” he said.

Fields keeps track of her menus and activity with MyFitnessPal, a food tracking app. She enters her meals into the app and it tracks her calories, including fat grams, carbohydrates and more.

Rather than cutting out certain foods, she and her husband are simply eating less. If they go out to eat, she calls up the menu online before they go so they can plan for a healthy meal. “I treat myself from time to time. It’s all about moderation,” she said.

Fields, meanwhile, has increased her physical efforts. She has taken group classes at the Y in kick-boxing, body pumping and cycling. She has worked on machines. She’s running on the treadmill now. She walks or runs three to five miles a day, either inside at the Y or outside if weather permits. She plans to participate in the YMCA’s 5K (3.2-mile) Shamrock Shuffle on March 17.

“I like the feeling I get after I exercise, knowing I completed something. I feel more energy, and my body feels really good,” she said. “I’ve gained so much self-confidence. I’ve learned to love myself and accept myself and to celebrate every victory no matter how small.”

Jim beams with pride when he talks about his wife, “for the progress she’s made, and for the courage and confidence to tell her story. I’m a lucky, lucky guy to be married to her,” he said.

She’s pleased, too, especially when she looks at the pictures Jim has taken. “I never want to go back to where I was,” she said.

Inclusion is the name of the game for YMCA flag-football team

Written by Heather Riggleman Hub Staff Writer

KEARNEY—A game of flag football made parents misty eyed Saturday when an entire team of second- and third-grade boys gave Toby McDonald, a boy with Down syndrome, the chance to score a touchdown.

The idea came from their coaches, Casey Fosher and Brandon Grauerholz.

“We wanted Toby to be able to snap the ball and be a part of a few plays. So I talked with the refs and the other team to let them know what we wanted to do for Toby,” Fosher said. His son Kashtyn also is on the team. Fosher said when he first got the roster of the boys on his team, he contacted all the parents and learned Toby is a non-verbal 10-year-old with Down syndrome.

He said Toby’s parents, Suzanne and Toby McDonald of Kearney, just wanted their son to have a chance to hang out with the boys.

Suzanne said Saturday was a day she will never forget.

“I was sitting with all the other parents on the sidelines, cheering on the team, when I witnessed something I will never forget. The quarterback handed the ball off to Toby. Not sure what to do next, Toby just stood there. As one teammate encouraged him to run, the rest of the team proceeded to surround my son, protecting him from the defenders, and escorted him to the end zone where everyone erupted in cheers and high fives,” she said.

Sara Norman, mother of teammate Treyton Sedersten, said all the parents and children at the game were moved by the act.

“The coach instructed the boys to help Toby make a touchdown. It was so emotional watching both teams help him make a touchdown,” Norman said. She said the other team pretended to miss grabbing Toby’s flags and faked falling down behind him.

“Once Toby realized he scored a touchdown, his sixth grade mentor Zack Waston told him to do his little dance just like the rest of the boys do when they score,” Norman said.

After the game, Treyton said he felt as if he had been part of something special.

“I liked being able to see Toby do what we get to do. It was cool to be a part of it,” he said. Norman said the boys understood the end result wasn’t about winning the game, but it was about helping Toby be just like them.

The McDonalds signed Toby up for the flag football team at the Kearney Family YMCA. He was placed on the Cowboys team, and members were mindful about including Toby from the beginning.

“From the first practice, I noticed them using sign language to communicate with him. I’ve witnessed his teammates’ desire for Toby to succeed and their willingness to make whatever adjustments necessary to make this possible for him,” Suzanne said.

Toby’s parents adopted him internationally and opted to ensure he was a included in the mainstream in all activities, including school. Suzanne said Buffalo Hills Elementary School has been very accommodating, and 80 percent of his day is spent in the classroom.

On her blog, Nothing Down About It, Suzanne wrote:

“More than anything else, Toby wants to be just like the other boys his age. He kind of reminds me of Pinocchio wanting to be a real boy. He loves to imitate everything that his friends do. What better way for him to become more like a typical 10-year-old than to surround himself with typical peers all day long?”

Also in the crowd at Toby’s big game was Chelsea Feusner, the mother of teammate Carter and principal at Buffalo Hills.

“It was great to see the culture of our building extended into the community, that it truly is neat to see that it carries on and we have taught and fostered that understanding, patience and acceptance. I get to see it on a day-to-day basis with our kids, but then to see from the sidelines in action was pretty neat,” she said.

The morning after the game, Toby woke up Suzanne. “He did his touchdown dance and signed ‘more,’” she said.

The McDonalds are parents of five children, Emma Lee, 18, Cassandra, 16, Kylee, 14, and two sons with Down syndrome. Toby, 10, was adopted from Ukraine in 2010 and Boaz, 3, was adopted from Bulgaria in 2015.

Starting Young to Stop Bullying

Written by Heather Riggleman for the Kearney Hub

KEARNEY — “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands” — and more than 100 children at the YMCA of Kearney chimed in Monday morning with Lt. Gov. Mike Foley and Sue Klein, the YMCA’s Child Care Center director.

“It’s nice to be in Kearney and be outside of Lincoln. The governor and I feel it’s important to interact with the public all over the state of Nebraska, including with little children. It’s important to teach children curriculum like the Second Step program so they know how to communicate and how to interact,” Foley said.

The children were warming up to review what they’ve been learning in the Second Step program, which was spearheaded by Mark Foradori, the United Against Violence Coalition coordinator.

“We began the program after consistently seeing about 20 percent of high school students stating in surveys they were bullied over the last few years. We knew we needed to do something,” Foradori said.

“We started Second Step last August. We can see the difference in the children. It helps them work on social and emotional concepts,” Klein said.

Klein said teachers see a difference because the program helps children understand empathy and compassion and to learn self-control when it comes to their emotions.

In Monday’s program, Foley used puppets to show emotions. The children responded with answers about how to cope with feelings such as sadness or when someone doesn’t share or in the case of one little boy, what to with his feelings if a wolf breaks into his house.

Foley took the comments in stride and told how he taught his six children about social and emotional issues.

“Today’s parents and youth face different obstacles due to the influence of technology. I look forward to working with young people in the Kearney area to learn how decision-making programs can build resilient kids,” said Foley.

He said he was honored to do his first puppet presentation as lieutenant governor. Foley has advocated for bullying prevention and educating youths about responsibility.

Second Step was selected by the United Against Coalition as the best fit for the community because of its low cost, ease of implementation and positive feedback from schools using the curriculum, according to a recent press release by Buffalo County Community Partners.

The teaching units of Second Step provide developmentally appropriate instruction in emotion management, friendship skills, empathy, conflict resolution, bullying prevention and substance abuse prevention.

“The violence prevention program of Buffalo County Community Partners was looking for a way to help kids to learn to work together to prevent bullying. When we spoke with educators in the beginning stages of implementing the program, they said the earlier we can educate, the better off the kids will be,” Foradori said.

Second Step curriculum is currently being used in five school systems and seven community based Childcare Centers in Buffalo County including the preschools at First Baptist Church and St. James Church.

“The Second Step curriculum is also the key to the reduction in youth violence and youth reports of bully behaviors in school and community. If we find success in programs like this as children, hopefully we’ll find the same success as adults,” Foradori said.

The curriculum is funded through a CHI Health Mission and Ministry grant awarded to United Against Violence to reduce youth-reported incidents of bullying and electronic bullying. The effort is meant to keep costs down by keeping people from having to go to the emergency room because of violence.

Kearney YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program earns Healthy Community Award

Written by Mary Jane Skalka for the Kearney Hub

KEARNEY — In recent years, the Kearney Family YMCA has taken tremendous steps to help people change today for a healthier tomorrow.

Part of this movement was the implementation of its Diabetes Prevention Program. Since the program was developed in August 2013, its effect has been felt by many people.

Because of its intense dedication to prevention and education, the Kearney YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program has been nominated and selected to receive the 2015 Healthy Community Prevention Award. The Healthy Community Awards are sponsored by CHI Health Good Samaritan. This award is presented to an individual or group who has provided a service or program that makes a significant contribution to preventing injury, illness or disease.

Of all the YMCAs in Nebraska, the Kearney Y was awarded the initial grant to fund the program. Laura Aden, a fitness director and personal trainer at the time, was appointed the program coordinator. The group-based program is led by one of three trained lifestyle coaches who help a small group of people with similar goals. Group discussions include topics such as healthy eating, increasing physical activity, reducing stress and problem solving.

“The Kearney YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program exceeds the national standards in numerous categories,” Aden says. Those standards include average weekly and monthly attendance and retention over the course of the program. The average participant percentage weight loss for nine sessions at the Kearney location is approximately 6.5 percent, while the national average is only 4.6 percent.

This success is a result of the efforts of the program leaders, of the physicians who have referred patients who are ready to make the changes and of the design of the overall program.

As diabetes continues to be a serious health concern for individuals across the nation, Aden foresees further emphasis on the prevention program and sees its lasting effect. She is very proud of the program’s recent collaboration with Buffalo County Community Partners to create a diabetes referral network. Aden also reaches out to local clinics, hospitals and other organizations in the community.

Kearney Hy-Vee Registered Dietitian Kaiti George nominated the Kearney YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program for the award.

“Kearney’s YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program is a leader in the nation for overall attendance, average physical activity minutes, completed food journals and percentage of weight lost during the program. I think that has a lot to say about how the program is run,” George said.